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State Releases Controversial School Grades

Members of the Utah PTA reading the latest school grades online.

Schools across Utah for the first time have been issued a single letter grade for their performance. According to the results of a new school grading system, released this morning, more than half of the state’s public schools got an A or a B, while the rest got C’s D’s or F’s. The education community responded this morning by calling the new system poor policy. But lawmakers contend it shines a light on poor-performing public schools.

In Utah 11 percent of public schools got an A this year, 45 percent got a B,  30 percent got a C, 10 percent got a D and 4 percent of Utah schools got an F. A map posted here shows a correlation between higher performing schools and areas that draw residents with high incomes.

GOP Senator Steve Urquhart says the new system is an opportunity for schools in less affluent areas to get the attention they need.

“Active parents, they squawk, and by squawking and being powerful they typically get what they want," Urquhart says. "So that means that the more affluent schools get the better administrators and the better teachers by and large. And the one’s that aren’t as gifted, they get shuttled around until they hit a school where the parents don’t complain as much or aren’t as powerful to make changes.”

But that’s not how Salt Lake City superintendent Dr. McKell Withers would characterize the new data.  Speaking on behalf of school superintendents in Utah, Withers says no single letter grade can accurately portray the complex issues surrounding individual schools.

“Our teachers understand that good data is critical for their success," Withers says. "But when data is misused to criticize their work, what do you have? You don’t have a system that helps kids, nor does it attract great teachers to the profession.”

A number of education groups oppose the new system born out of Senate Bill 271. The legislation narrowly passed the 2013 legislative session.

School grades are based on a combination of student growth and student performance on criterion-referenced tests or CRT’s in language arts, math and science given in the spring of each year. High schools are also judged on graduation rates. Schools that didn’t have enough non-proficient students take the CRT’s were given a grade of F regardless of student performance or growth.

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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